Rural retailing – running to stand still !

I have been in the business of rural retailing for the last 3 years now and the harder I try to make my business more profitable the farther I see myself drifting away from the reality.This is pretty much the case with many of my freinds who have sincerely tried and made effort beyond the powerpoints.

It is not that we are doing something that is entirely wrong but the question that stares us in the face is whether the Indian farmer is ready for organizd retail ? There are a few pointers :

1.All of us have heard the saying that the Indian farmer is born in debt,lives in debt and dies in debt.Some people have added that he is even reborn in debt.So with no opportunity of credit organized retail fails to be part of the consideration set.I have myself seen farmers buying a Jockey undergarment for Rs 125 a peice only because he gets credit from the shop.I quickly realized that it was not by choice that he was buying a “Jockey” but by design of the shopkeeper.Borrowers can’t choose…got It ?

2.The government has failed miserably is the last mile delivery of all its goodies including credit,PDS,Fertilizers etc etc.A testimony to this fact is that when Raman Singh wanted Farmers to get the benefit of Rs 2 per kg Rice Scheme he had to personally supervise the operations tracking each Bag with Mobile Phones,Internet etc .He did get the reward and won the election.The point is that with no other option available farmers end up taking loans from Money lenders @ 40 % + which means if one crop fails you are forever in debt.The Quality of seeds,fertilizers etc too is questionable even though they comprise 50 % of the cost of production.In such a grim scenario there is hardly any money left as “disposable Income”.If there is no disposable income then what and how do you sell and to whom?

3.We keep going to them again and again but the truth is that we still remain aliens .A simple explanation to which is the fact that if you cannot add any value to my life there is no point selling me a lifestyle which I cannot afford and do not want. Their concerns are different and unless we resolve them we will fail to become a part of the community.Being a corporate we have limitations of not being looked at as a social enterprise by our shareholders.We have shown the way by creating a model but political will has to be there to change the  system and make it effective so it gives real time results.

This post was prompted by the book ” India in slow motion” by Mark Tuly.In the chapter Farmer’s reward he describes the sad state of the Indian farmer ;why they commit suicides,who is to blame,how the system is gripped by inaction and why it is improbable to say that we will see better days.There is no magic wand and the problem has multiple facets each having its own root and reason for existence masking it almost a catch 22.

It seems that while urban India is busy doing Dard e disco, rural India is still stuck with Do Bigha Zameeen.Pls do watch it if you have’nt….you will know what I mean when your heart reaches out to Balraj Sawheny as he pulls the rickshaw in the last scene till he does not have any more strength and collapses dead.

The meetings that I had till late evening seemed more frivolous as I turned each page of the book.Wish I could do more …….